The Three Inherent Values


Published in the Philosophical Review, 2018


Values are perceived as being important, worthy and desirable in daily experience.  

Many values we perceive are taught by family or influenced by trends of society.  Such ‘acquired values’ are necessarily relative in nature. The question whether we possess inborn tendencies towards certain values may seem surprising; we are more prone to think about our differing ideas and diverse attractions, rather than the existence of ‘universal values’, which influence the field of motivation of all people.  

Nonetheless, the long history of human development indicates that there are certain powers of attraction among the individuals that span all societies, and that those universally desirable values have motivated humanity in its struggle for survival.  In a way, we are products of those silent powers of the universal values, acting deeply at the subconsciousness level of all people.


Undeniably, sexual attraction is one of the most powerful among human motivations. According to Darwin, one of the attractors in sexual selection is the ‘taste for the beautiful’ (Plum 2012:abstract). A show of magnificence of appearance can ensure sexual intercourse – but there is a fundamental distinction between animals and people in how ‘beauty’ is utilised.  People consciously create beauty, colouring the body, using ornaments and making art and music, while animals create nothing. The human tendency to create beauty in the form of paintings and bodily ornaments can be traced back to the time of the Neanderthal.

The sense of beauty is imparted by the mind, and not possessed by the external objects themselves, as David Hume observed:

“Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty. One person may even perceive deformity, where another is sensible of beauty; and every individual ought to acquiesce in his own sentiment, without pretending to regulate those of others”. (Hume in Sartwell 2012:sec.1)

Beauty is a universal value, which generates a sense of gratification of the senses, satisfaction and inner harmony. It is a subjective perception which can widely differ in expression among people, but despite the subjectivity of its taste, Beauty – as it is privately perceived – is universally treasured in all human societies. A wonderful aspect of Beauty is its reign over both fields of the physical and the mental aspect of life.

Someone can be described as having a beautiful spirit, a beautiful mind, beautiful intention, etc*.* This shows that Beauty is perceived not only in the physical domain, but in the field of the abstract as well.  

Even a mathematical equation, called Euler’s Identity (Cool-man 2015), is regarded as the most beautiful equation in mathematics (as it combines the basic entities of [i π, e, 1, 0 ] all in one relationship).  

Where does this sense of mathematical beauty come from? Perhaps from the elegance of expression or simplicity in presentation; symmetry of shapes also plays a role, and the perception of rational proportions of vibrations, as well as harmony of colours – factors which extend the domain of expressions of Beauty to include also art and music.  The anti-value of Beauty is ugliness and disorder, unpleasant by nature.  

But sometimes, we find situations in which Beauty can be compromised .  If something is irregular or ugly, one can somehow get used to it or ignore it. This is not the case with another type of basic value: goodness, as the anti-value of Goodness is Evil, and this cannot be ignored.


As in the case of the value of Beauty, the value of Good is also subjective. This becomes problematic indeed.  

A suicide bomber claims that there is no more ‘goodness’ than martyrdom following God’s will!  In Nazi Germany, following orders with full compliance was an expression of ‘good will’ to fulfil one’s duty.  So, how to define what is truly Good?

In Principia Ethica G E Moore offers the following surprising answer:

“If I am asked ‘what is good?’ – my answer is that good is good, and that is the end of the matter. Or if I am asked, ‘How is good to be defined?’ – my answer is that it cannot be defined and that’s all I have to say about it." (Moore 1903 online)

Various attempts to clarify what is perceived as ‘good’ used the concept of what one ‘ought to do’: if you do what you ought to do, then that is goodness! In the following definition, goodness is defined as the “best thing to do”:

“Goodness is a matter of behaving as one ought in one’s relations with other people, and perfect goodness is a matter of doing the best thing that one can for them - whenever there is a best, and doing one of the best things that one can - whenever two or more things are ‘joint best’ for them, ie, are equally good and none is better”. (Mawson 2005:57)

In the above-mentioned definition, the three words ‘good’, ‘better’ and ‘best’ were used to refer to and explain ‘goodness’!

Surprisingly, the definition of Good evaded Kant, who rather shifted the focus from ‘good’ in itself, to describe one’s ‘will to do one’s duty’:

‘Nothing can possibly be […] called good […], except a good will’ (Kant 1785/1895).

It is possible that some philosophers provided a satisfying definition of goodness, but it is still puzzling. What made Kant equate doing one’s duty with the absolute manifestation of goodness – ‘The greatest moral perfection of man is to do his duty, and that from duty’ – as he states in the Introduction to The Metaphysical Elements of Ethics.  In this approach, Kant is conditioning one’s goodness by obedience to rules. But, in reality, fulfilling one’s duty does not guarantee an outcome of goodness:

“Many of the worst crimes in history have been committed by men who had a strong sense of duty just because their sense of duty was so strong”. (Nowell-Smith 1954)

If Good is so elusive to define, how about its negation? If we accept that ‘evil is the intent to do harm’ – we get: ‘good is the intent to remove harm’.  Everyone understands this.  We call a doctor, a nurse or a medicine as being ‘good’, because their action is based on removing harm. The concept of Goodness develops further to mean ‘removing harm and imparting joy’, as referred to in Eastern philosophical perspectives:

"[T]he word for compassion comprises two Chinese characters.  The first character corresponds to the Sanskrit word maitri, meaning ‘to give happiness. The second corresponds to the Sanskrit karuna, meaning ‘to remove suffering. Taken together they describe the function of relieving living beings of suffering and giving them happiness”. (SGI website)

Goodness is a compassionate action, which leads to overcoming hardships, transforming sufferings and creating happiness – an essential aid in human survival. It is an inherent mental operator, which is treasured among all people over time and place. The Eastern perspective on ‘goodness’ is strongly related to the mental drive for compassion, which was regarded by Charles Darwin as the phenomenon which accompanied the origin of human civilization, as he observed that the inherent drive for compassion within family boundaries developed in all humanity, and spread to engulf unknown children of other families and tribes:

“As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races”. (Darwin 1871)

Creating Benefit

Living in organised society, individuals enjoy the potential to passionately focus on their preferred capabilities and functions among other people.  Ideas, which sprang up in the mind of individuals to create better tools, better performance, offering potentials for stronger security, or more efficient systems, etc, were highly appreciated and encouraged by all sorts of acknowledgement.

Creating benefit to society is a highly treasured value, and widely rewarded. It can be argued that the inner tendency for creating benefit and contributing to the welfare of society constitutes a secret invisible convention, which established the bond of humanity.  Interconnectedness of individual and society is expressed through experienced benefits of compassion, support, help, education, social security and health systems – and the individual’s desire subconsciously reflects a tendency to fulfil a beneficial function and to contribute.  Any action of improvement in any matter, which would bring benefit to others – and this is a highly rewarded action of value – leads to many forms of recognition.

To create benefit, one has to start from correct knowledge about the subject of engagement – and how to use various facts in order to bring a useful solution.  Knowledge about the truth of phenomena at hand is indispensable, but ‘knowledge of the truth’ – in itself – without the required practical application, does not create benefit. Benefit is gained out of applying truths for the purpose of creating something desirable.  Application of available knowledge can be observed in the essence of all inventions of machines or devices.  Truth is related to the mental process of ‘cognition’, while value is related to the process of ‘evaluation’.

The difference between ‘cognition’ and ‘evaluation’ occupied the mind of a Japanese educator-philosopher, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944), who sensed that the Kantian perspective of considering the Truth (or cognition of the truth) as a value is incorrect.

Value is something related to the human being, its nature is subjective evaluation. Truth, on the other hand, is objective in nature. We can create something of value, but we cannot create the truth (because it is already there):

“Makiguchi regarded truth as an ‘expression of things as they are’, whereas, value was understood as an ‘expression of the relation between self and object’, and that, unlike truth, ‘value emerges as the measure of the appropriateness of the object for the evaluator’.  Furthermore, Makiguchi believed that as truth latently exists in nature, it cannot be created, only revealed.

By contrast, we can create value, and ‘creation applies only to value and not to truth, for truth stops at the point of discovery’ while it is the application of the Truth that creates value”.

Perhaps, the example of the invention of a practical light bulb for homes by Thomas Edison in 1879 indicates applying the truth (the laws of electricity) to reality (engineering procedures) – which results in a product (which manifests the value of benefit).  All related laws of electricity and the conversion of electrical energy into heat and visible light – were known (Truth) long before the invention. But only when Edison, through his steady efforts, applied their truth to a durable conductor did the remarkable power of knowledge and efforts result in benefit for self and others.

The Neo-Kantian school of philosophy, however, has a different opinion on the subject of value, considering the ‘truth in thinking’ as a value:

“By contrast, the Baden School of Wilhelm Windelband, Heinrich Rickert, and Emil Lask tended to emphasize the questions of values, or axiology.  Windelband considered philosophy to be first and foremost a teaching about universally valid values namely truth in thinking, goodness in will and action, and beauty in feeling,  a tripartite classification that is directly based on Kant”. (NWE 2014).

This marks a departure of the Eastern system of values, advocated by Makiguchi (as the trinity of Beauty, Goodness and Benefit), from the Neo-Kantian system of values (being: Beauty, Goodness and Truth).

The assumption that one’s thinking is based on the Truth, however, requires verification. If application of the Truth produces a tangible usage, then this application can be regarded as valuable; in other words, value is not produced by the passively existing Truth but by relevant actions of human beings:

“Ever since the days of Francis Bacon, truth has also been regarded as a ‘use-value’ and therefore as relative to human needs and desires, but a value nonetheless (Werkmeister 1970).

According to Makiguchi, Western pragmatism confuses ‘truth’ with ‘value’:

“In confusing truth with value and treating them as being alike and equal, Western pragmatism [Makiguchi contended] makes the false assumption that if a thing is true it is beneficial to man. Experience does not support such an assumption. On the contrary, experience tells us that some things that have no usefulness to human life are true”. (Makiguchi in Bethel 1994:55-56)


Values are mental operators, which decide on the direction of treasured activities in society.  Philosophy suggests two systems of values:

-   The Western Neo-Kantian System considering Beauty, Good and Truth – as the three essential values.

In this perspective of values, the two values of Beauty and Good are subjective in nature, while Truth is objective, making the three neo-Kantian values incoherent in essence.

-   The Eastern-Makiguchi System of values of Beauty, Good and Benefit to humanity, as the powers that influence the evolution of society. The three values of Beauty, Good and Benefit constitute a uniform system which is subjective in nature, making it possible for values to intermingle with each other (as when we describe a beneficial invention – for example – as a good invention or a beautiful one).

The anti-values in Makiguchi’s system are: ugliness and disharmony (vs beauty), evil and egoism (vs good and compassion), and loss and destruction (vs benefit or gain and progress):

“Of two people making comparable efforts, the results will differ greatly if one person is motivated by a value that transcends the self – (good, beauty, the well-being of others) – while the contrary is motivated by ego’ (Ikeda 1988:117).

This statement, by contemporary philosopher D. Ikeda, unifies the three values in terms of behaviour – and is essentially based on the criterion that value can be created by human beings.